Wednesday, February 20, 2013

rational actors are delusional, Crispy conflates, and cognitive dissonance is an anchor

Steve Nash is a career 91% free throw shooter, which puts him in the running for best free throw rate in NBA history. I assume that he's very good at convincing himself that the ball will go in. He's surely aware that he has around a 91% chance and yet every time he goes through his motions, he's convincing himself (most likely he doesn't have to try very hard) that he has a 100% chance. This is of course the best way to proceed. Confidence in action has a very loose relationship with truth. Truth is not the object. The object is to rise above the truth or to deny a place in the future to those truths you don't like. Steve Nash at the foul line is a rational actor by the usual standard but he's delusional at the most important moment. Maybe "wise actor" is a better term.
Crispin Sartwell isn't entirely wrong in saying that women are best off "taking responsibility" for what they wear and the state of women's fashion, and that they should try to change it if it's oppressive. Steve Nash's mentality is the right one. But Sartwell is conflating reality with intentionality. I used to teach high school in Baltimore and I'd frequently tell the prisoners how the odds were stacked against them but how irrelevant this should be going forward. It's true that people in rough situations sometimes find relief in self-pity and that this can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy problem but acknowledging the reality of the situation is not the same thing as using it as a crutch. Again, reality is not intentionality.

Another problem is that, in Sartwell's view, there's a fixed quantity of responsibility and to say "patriarchy" is to say that women are helpless and without agency and therefore deserve neither blame nor praise. At the risk of oversimplifying, it seems that certain people find themselves in 3-0 counts (baseball analogy time!) due to circumstances outside their control while others find themselves in 0-2 counts, where the odds of success are lower and level of skill required to come through with a hit greater so that if a person in an 0-2 count gets a hit, it's more impressive whereas if they don't, it's less unimpressive.
"Reason" and "emotion" are set against each other like the categories "human" and "animal." There are differences worth mentioning between each pair but just as humans are animals, reason is an emotion. Reason is rooted in desire. Curiosity describes something felt, as does cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is one of the best guides we have, though we'd perhaps be wise not to let it mess too much with our free-throw shooting or politics. 

There are limits to how much one can control it. I can't convince myself I'm a bird, I couldn't make myself believe that Jesus was my Lord and Saviour, etc. The downside is that if you miss enough free throws, your ability to fight reality with intentionality might suffer, making you less likely to make the next one. Also, you might be unable to forget all the terrible things you've learned about being human. The upside is that it grounds and orders arguments, including those against unnecessary suffering. It's hard-wired so everyone feels it, though cultural violence amplifies other feelings. You can't compel someone to agree with you but your words can apply emotional pressure, hopefully to cognitive dissonance, until they can't help but see fatal flaws in their arguments.

"2+2=4" is not arbitrary. Every term in the equation is a product of human imagination but that's the imagination I have so I can't help but be impressed by the truth of it, even as I question it or reframe it, philosophically. The only chance geocentrism and creationism ever had was to somehow rope in superior ideas with widespread co-self-deception (I believe it, do you believe it? Oh yeah, I believe it, everyone believes it. My parents believed it and God believes it and the Bible is the most widely read book and the preacher has an inside connection to God...) Obviously it didn't work in the first case and isn't working very well in the second (one last sports analogy -- the creationists are down 35-0 in the fourth quarter). People resisted the new paradigms, tried to believe the scary new ideas were lies, but couldn't.


"I always think I'm on fire. Like the old school game, 'NBA Jam,' you make a couple and the rim's on fire and when you shoot the ball, the ball's on fire. I feel like that at times. Well, all the time. When I'm in the game, I play with a lot of confidence and you kind of got to lie to yourself that you can't miss."
-- Bulls guard Nate Robinson, on his sizzling run that helped deliver a 3-1 series lead over the Nets.

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